Category: The Green New Deal

The Foundation of the Green New Deal – a quick look at the GNDG Executive Summary

The “Green New Deal” (GND) proposals essentially begin with a relatively conservative proposal by the British Green New Deal Group (GNDG), who launched their “Executive Summary in 2008.  They have produced more current reports and recommendations since then, including language for a Decarbonisation and Economic Strategy Bill in 2019.  Since these reports all focus on British strategy, and on the British political and financial environments, we’ll look only to the first report for now, as a static foundation upon which later GND solutions emerged and developed for the American environment; but the reader should remain aware that the group continues to be responsive to today’s political and global environment for moving Great Britain into a green 21st century.  Their current website is here.

The initial report (followed later by more policy-centered writing) actually focused as much or more on the upcoming climate problem (as seen from 2008) as it did on solutions to that problem.  The report also borrowed a great deal from history, in particular from two specific moments. First, the report borrowed from FDR’s New Deal, when the US government saw the urgency of the situation as an opportunity to make massive change across the board, rather than tinkering at the edges of a problem with incremental modifications.  Second, the report noted WWII, when the British Government, and the British public, came together to meet and defeat the German threat. The sacrifices of not just the men at the fighting lines (and those civilians killed in bombing raids or on ships sunk by German naval and air forces), but by the families back home of their time, work, and property in ensuring that their nation was able to meet the challenge of an existential threat, are taken as a cue that when faced with dire circumstances, we (the British, in this case) can indeed come together, pool resources, and put the interests of nation and community ahead of self interests.  Such moments also show that the individual can see self interests as intersecting with national and community interests.

However, the initial GNDG report, while based on establishing the urgency of the problem, and while illustrating the precedent of massive problems being overcome by the public uniting with the government, also established some initial policy suggestions.  The initial report proposed a climate goal of keeping warming to below 2° C (climate warming increases are relative to mid-19th century average temperature levels; that is, to before the bulk of industrial exhaust was put by corporate industrialization into our atmosphere and water).  The GNDG initially proposed a roughly 40-year project to lower British carbon emissions by 80% of the 1990 levels (by 2050), thereby remaining as a net carbon emitter. As we’ll see when we explore more recent proposals, considering the failure of governments to take climate change seriously and substantially reduce emissions, and the resulting acceleration of the problem, today’s GND proposals call ultimately for achieving complete carbon neutrality.

This point is stressed by the lack of action taken thus far.  As Mark Lymas warned in multiple points in his book, Six Degrees (2008), we are nearing a point when warming is sure to exceed 2°.  If we do exceed that target, then there is the problem of feedbacks, where naturally stored carbon (e.g., CO2 and methane in the soil, in our oceans and under the sea floor, in bogs and marshes and other wetlands, and in forests) is released by that warming; and then the earth itself becomes, thanks to us, the major carbon emitter, rather than industrial processes.  We now have to move to more restrictive policies than would have been necessary had climate security been effectively implemented a decade or two ago, to keep that from happening. If the feedbacks accelerate, then climate warming might not be controlled until it reaches apocalyptic proportions – and then, likely, not at all.

However, from the less dangerous (and more hopeful) view of 2008, even the relatively conservative initial proposal of the GNDG saw that large-scale carbon reduction (to 80% of 1990s levels) would require not just some economic and industrial tinkering, but massive structural change.  The initial GNDG report focused on the banking and financial sector as in particular needing reform for a GND to work. The authors called for structural transformation of the regulation of national and international financial systems, and major changes to the tax structure. They proposed a sustained program of energy conservation and renewable energy strategies, coupled with effective demand management.  They urged banking reform and demergers, to keep banks from being “too big to fail.” They also sought specific targeting of offshore and internet banking and finances for compliance; credit re-regulation, to minimize dangerous credit risks; a program of global debt cancellation; and low interest rates.

The initial report saw the need for a revamping of the jobs sector, to prevent fossil-fuel retirement from causing unemployment, and to shift jobs to a growing green jobs sector; but the initial report was vague on details (reserving that for later reports).  The authors did, however, call for the creation of a “Green Army” of workers to join the green sector. The use of the “army” epithet is appropriate considering the authors’ call for wartime-level consumption changes. The authors optimistically hoped that the British public will take upon themselves the need to sacrifice for the greater good.  This is one of the weaknesses of the initial proposal. The British wartime experience did not involve a public questioning the existence of the Germans, or questioning the threat of the bombs falling upon them; and did not envision an entire media dedicated to convincing deniers of the realities becoming ever more apparent around them that those events were not taking place.  Our 21st century political environment, however, is very different from that of World War Two.

Costs of the project were anticipated at being at least £50 billion per year; today’s estimates make that figure pale in comparison.  Nonetheless, ensuring such a figure for as long as 40 years required serious thought as to funding; and so the authors proposed a large-scale program involving carbon taxes, GND bonds, enforcement fees, green development “savings plans” (albeit, with tax offsets), and other private-sector “Green Banking” drives.  The authors also argued that peak oil would lead to rapidly increasing gas prices, which would “fuel” the revamp to cheaper renewables. This last argument has not for the most part manifested. Peak oil has not yet arrived, and so the geometric increase in petroleum prices predicted by the authors also remains hypothetical.  However, the learning curve on solar and wind technology has lowered renewable prices significantly, and that may in the end produce a similar effect to that looked for by the GNDG.

The authors also proposed the actual physical infrastructural changes needed to conserve energy and transition to green energy.   They called for “Every Building a Power Station,” focused on vastly increasing local production of energy by each home and building.  They looked to smart city development and vastly improved consumption efficiency. They foresaw massive expenditures, from actual power systems (wind turbines and solar), to wires and pipes and green-friendly products to replace those less so.

The financial basis of the authors’ thinking can be found in their proposals for cost-realistic fossil prices (including carbon costs and taxes, etc.) to move the public away from fossil fuels and toward renewables.  They also insisted that all public pensions must be disconnected from funds, stocks, and bonds that are not carbon friendly; and that financial laws should directly incentivize carbon-friendly funds. Similarly, their thoughts on corporate and environmental policy involved proposals for corporate tax enforcement, including of offshore tax havens, and for a separate tax structure for small businesses to enhance local job creation for the Green Army.

Understanding that both changes to the system, as well as any climate change effects experienced would disproportionately hurt the poor and minorities the most, they argued for funding and investment initiatives toward reducing the cost of transformation to those most vulnerable.  Details in this initial report on protecting vulnerable communities were not forthcoming, however. But we do see in this proposal the embryo of the focus on protecting vulnerable communities that is found in the later proposals we’ll explore.

Finally, the authors proposed an international component, which features prominently in every other GND proposal since then.  Their international policies include support for developing economies through massive infrastructural development funds for GND transformation in other nations; intellectual property restrictions eased for poor nations to use transition technology developed in rich counties; and the enforcement of international climate security agreements such as Kyoto and Paris (as well as additional agreements as needed).

This is the initial proposal from 2008, which helped to define policy areas, and start the conversation about achievable goals, and tactics and strategies for meeting those goals, for later GND proposals (including these authors’ later, updated recommendations).  In our next post, we’ll take a look at the Green Party’s proposal (last updated apparently in 2016) for a Green New Deal.

Image from the Executive Summary title page, published by the Green New Deal Group, 2008.

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The Climate Crisis and the Green New Deal: An Introduction

And Spark! returns, having gone dark while I was dedicating my time to working full-time for a few campaigns and political efforts.  We’re back to delve into a major issue facing our nation and our world – the Climate Crisis.

Today (Friday, September 20, 2019) began a series of strikes around the world, the Global Climate Strikes (with different events across the globe running over a full week, through September 27).  These strikes, and other actions (e.g., TIME Magazine‘s 9-23-19 special edition on the climate crisis), underline the fact that we are rapidly running out of time to head off a massive climate catastrophe, one which is already taking lives and costing billions of dollars in annual damages, and which will get considerably worse this century even if we do manage to thwart the worst results of human exploitative economies.  In consideration of this problem, and of the notice being brought to it this week, Spark! is undertaking a brief series of posts about the most ambitious set of proposals for handling it, the Green New Deal (GND).  Today we’ll start with just a quick look at the issue, the perceived need for something as ambitious as the GND, and some of the sources available on it which we’ll be exploring further.

Already, at the beginning of this century, climate scientists had established through a wealth of verified scientific research that climate change is taking place, and that it is caused by an outpouring of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses as the specific, verified result of human activities.  Scientists have long since established that the result of climate change will be a long period of considerable warming, as well as other effects (e.g., massive changes to precipitation, and more frequent extremes of weather that will change the face of the planet, the environment in which we live, and even our abilities to grow the food we need to live).  Such changes are already starting to make some parts of our planet uninhabitable, and will increase by many times the numbers of people fleeing these areas to go to other places, like Europe and the United States. The refugee and immigration problems this will bring us here in the United States will make the numbers and problems currently being experienced pale by comparison. Climate change will impact virtually every aspect of human life and public policy.

Over a decade ago, two works in particular helped to bring climate change into focus.  Mark Lynas’s book, Six Degrees: Our Future On a Hotter Planet (National Geographic Society / HarperCollins, 2008), examined existing data and numerous projections, and illustrated six scenarios for what specific increments of warming would look like, starting with the even-then optimistic scenario that climate change would be limited to an increase of 1° Celsius (degrees of warming are relative to average levels of the late-1800s, before industrialization started pouring carbon compounds into the atmosphere), and then detailing what the world would look like in 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6° warming scenarios.  Lynas showed that warming was looking even at the time of writing to proceed to at least 2°, and could possibly get even worse, depending on how quickly and how effectively human policy and global lifestyle changes could reduce emissions and/or begin sequestering enough carbon to reduce warming and other effects. Lynas in particular wrote a great deal about the feedback problems: the Earth has already sequestered massive quantities of carbon which are not currently affecting our climate; and a warmer climate will in various ways bring these carbon stores (whose existence has nothing to do with human activity) into our atmosphere, thereby not just increasing but massively accelerating climate change.  These feedback problems become especially relevant once climate change has reached . Feedback provides an immediate point of urgency: We need to stop warming before it reaches that point, or we risk uncontrolled, accelerated warming to the point where climate change becomes not merely costly and annoying, and deadly mostly to select populations here and there, but literally threatening to our very civilization.

Also in 2008, a British group, the Green New Deal Group, separately established the urgency for rapid and ambitious action.  They produced an Executive Summary of a proposal for massive change, which they based on the New Deal of the 1930s, and also found comparisons to various wartime (World War II) British policies to conserve resources for combating the Axis powers.  The authors argued cogently that, first, we were already (in 2008) at the point where conservative policy adjustment to head off climate change had passed its window for being able to accomplish much. The authors argued that, second, the more immediate and massive change that would be needed would only succeed if the effort were not merely focused on modifications to our industrial processes, power grid, transportation sector or other, more immediate carbon-emitting activities, but involved financial and monetary policies designed to ensure the long-term existence of significant funding for the massive changes needed.  They also argued that, third, both the US in the 1930s, and Great Britain in the 1940s, pursued policies to change consumption habits, along the line of the ambitious changes needed for the GND to work, so that while considerable, such policies are not impossible and certainly not without established precedents.

The Green New Deal Group pushed for rather more radical changes than were argued by Lynas.  However, Lynas also made it very clear in his conclusion (p. 269) that there were literally just a few years left (as of 2008) in which less radical change could have enough effect.  We are now several years past the period during which Lynas’s less radical proposals could seriously be projected to keep the planet from reaching the dangerous threshold of 3° of warming.  We are now threatened with literally apocalyptic changes if we do not make, immediately, very serious changes to our policies and lifestyles.

The continued and escalating urgency of this is demonstrated by a wealth of new efforts, from the Green Party, to the Sunrise Movement, to even (finally, and let us hope not futilely) the latest US Congress.  The next post here on Spark! will go into these in some detail, but in the meantime (if you want to do your homework first), here are some of the sources we’ll be looking at in our next post:

The Green New Deal Group‘s 2008 Executive Summary – arguing to British readers why and how Her Majesty’s Government should adopt a GND

The Green Party‘s 2016 proposal for a GND

The 116th US Congress‘s House Resolution 109, “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal”

Vox‘s “The Green New Deal, Explained” – a fairly objective look at the proposal, and some of the difficulties (political and otherwise) involved in operating by such a policy

R Street‘s opposition to the GND, “What is the Green New Deal?”, arguing mostly from a libertarian point of view against the policy

The Kamala Harris Campaign‘s “A Climate Plan for the People,” largely in sync with the basic thinking behind HR 109

Many other sources are available, such as Naomi Klein‘s On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal

You may also want to take a look at the Sunrise Movement, which has been pushing the GND to centrist Democrats (like Nancy Pelosi) who have not as yet embraced the principles of radical change across the board

We’ll discuss some of these sources in our next post, here, and in the meantime, you can help the Global Climate Strike by going here to join in.

Image from Global Climate Strike’s website: https://globalclimatestrike.net/big-day-tomorrow/